Not Your Mother’s Chicken Soup: Creamy Lemon Pasta Chicken Soup

“Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living.  For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish. ”  Louis P DeGouy , The Soup Book, 1949

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Several years ago when I was under the weather, a kind neighbor delivered a steaming pot of the most delicious “chicken soup”.  This soup was a revelation, totally unexpected in flavor and I often remember how it nurtured me back to health.  It had bright lemony overtones, barely cooked, crunchy sugar snaps peas and al dente penne pasta in a creamy base.  Definately not the chicken soup I grew up with.  I’ve tried to recreate the recipe here.

Every culture has its own tradition of soup and archaeologists have traced soup-making back to 20,000 years BC.  It is the perfect communal meal, ideal for sharing.  There is a meditative quality to the chopping of the ingredients while the anticipation of enjoying the dish builds as the seductive aroma fills the home during the long simmering.  It is a dish that evokes home like no other.

This soup is satisfying as a meal on its own and it is a perfect late winter transitional dish with its spring-like ingredients: sugar snap peas, lemony highlights and  fresh parsley.  Whatever your tradition of soup is, try a new variation of “chicken soup” and experience a burst of springtime flavor and color.  Who knows?  It could become a new family favorite.

CREAMY LEMON PASTA CHICKEN SOUP

6 Main-Course or 12 Starter Servings

3 T butter

1 c sliced celery

1 c shredded carrots

1 c sliced mushrooms

1 diced yellow onion

3 T flour

6 c chicken stock

1 1/2 c light cream

1/4 c packed, chopped Italian parsley

1 1/2 c uncooked chicken breast meat, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

1 c penne pasta, cooked al dente

1 c sugar snap peas, cut in half, diagonally

juice of 2 lemons

salt and pepper

Melt butter in a soup pot.  Add celery, carrots, mushrooms and onions and cook over low heat until onion is translucent.image

Add flour and stir thoroughly for about 2 minutes.  imageGradually add chicken stock, stirring constantly, and heat through, about 5 minutes.  imageAdd cream and parsley and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add chicken and simmer another 5 minutes.  (Soup can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated until ready to use.) Add cooked pasta and sugar snap peas and simmer another 2 minutes.  Finish with lemon juice and salt and pepper, to taste.

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“Soup is the song of the hearth…and the home”  Louis P DeGouy, The Soup Book, 1949

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Virgin and Child with Milk Soup, Gerard David, c1510

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day with Herbed Butter

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” Robert Browning
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There is nothing like the intoxicating aroma of freshly baking bread to elicit a strong nostalgic pull at the heart strings.  You may remember walking home from school as a child, your nose speeding up your footsteps, to find your mother’s baked loaf awaiting you.  Continue reading

Frozen Vodka: Toasting the Sochi Games!

Wanting to write a blog post on Russian food in honor of the Sochi Olympic Games, I weighed making borscht or frozen vodka….Hummmm…Being we’re celebrating the games,  the frozen vodka won out.  Russia has the highest consumption of vodka in the world and they enjoy vodka, neat.  Neat vodka is best served icy cold.

Here is how to make a no-fuss ice-encased bottle of vodka:

Choose a fifth size of bottle(my Absolut vodka is actually Swedish, but it’s what I had!).  Rinse out a half gallon milk or juice container and cut it at the fold.image

I used a clear plastic bottle for illustration purposes.

imageEmpty  a shelf space in your freezer tall enough to accomodate the bottle of vodka.

image Choose what you want to decorate the ice ring with.  Good choices include citrus slices, small flowers, herbs, sprigs of evergreen, fresh cranberries.  I used lemon and orange slices.

Place your bottle in the container, add the decorations, fill with water and freeze.

image To serve, cut away the cardboard or pastic, then place your bottle on your bar, in a dish, to catch the melting water.

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If  your ice ring extends to the neck of your bottle, you’ll want to tie a napkin around your bottle to pick it up comfortably.  My bottle had plenty of non-iced area to comfortably hold on to the bottle to pour.  The ice will last about 4 hours at room temperature and will get progressively clearer as it sits out.

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Variations:

The water can be tinted with food coloring to tie into a theme.  Or you can make a trio of frozen vodka  for a spectacular addition to your bar if using different flavored vodkas.

While making this project some of the decorations may float up and it will be a trial and error process for how best to proceed.    For example if you want to use fresh cranberries, they will float, so put them in first, then layer in  citrus slices above to prevent the cranberries from bobbing up.

Conversely, you can use the 1/3 method:  Place decorations and add water to a 1/3 depth and freeze this.  Repeat 2 more times until you have the desired decorations in  your ice ring, and the ice reaches the neck of the bottle.    Obviously this is more time consuming and I feel, not worth the fuss.

This is a really fun project that will be a hit at your party.  You can adapt it for non-alcoholic beverages easily.

But back to the XXII Olympiad:  Raise an icy cold glass of vodka and “toct” the host country of the XXII games:  “Za zda-ROV’-ye! ”  To health!

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Bird-day Cake: This icy confection is for the birds!

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As many of us are trying to keep our sanity during this long  brutal winter, I switched gears and went out to play in the snow!   I had a picture of this project ripped out of a magazine 15 years ago but never never got around to making it.   I guess back then I would have had 3 little guys to build this with me but hélas, they are grown men and the fun was all mine!  I was inspired to finally create this when I was greeted by chirping birds when getting the mail in freezing weather.   My garden has many berry shrubs to provide food for our feathered friends but as we brace for another storm, I thought putting out extra food would be precautionary.

To build, select 3 containers of graduated sizes, with flat bottoms and fill them with water.  Set them outside to freeze.

Image Once frozen, unmold them and set them on either cardboard or a disposable cloth and build your “cake”.  Have fun decorating it with votive candles, small containers to hold additional birdseed and sprinkle birdseed all over the tiers.  Come indoors, make yourself a cup of hot tea, coffee or cocoa and watch your feathered friends discover your creation, and put on a show!

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This is a perfect project to make with little ones.  It would be a fun activity for the upcoming Presidents’ Day Weekend, or for a family fun day.   It could also make a whimsical winter birthday present for a bird-loving friend or a zero-calorie birthday cake for waistline-watching gardening friend.  Vary the size to suit your needs or to adapt to your container sizes.

Happy Bird-day!

“I don’t feed the birds because they need me, I feed the birds because I need them.”

Kathi Hutton

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No Water Flowers: New From Holland

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A Dutch grower, Vreugdenhill Bulbs, has an exciting new series of waxed bulbs that require no water, no soil and are guaranteed to bloom in 3-6 weeks!imageThey are marketed by the fun name WAXZ.image

These carefree and modern bulbs come with a special metal spiral stand embedded in the wax layer to make them stand upright.  This makes them versatile and they can literally be plopped down anywhere and left to bloom without any attention!  They don’t require sun, soil or water.  The bulb has been grown to have all the nutrition it requires stored in the bulb.  The roots get cut short before the bulb is dipped in the decorative wax.  These bulbs are intended for a single bloom season.

imageThe  wax layer comes in a variety of colors and finishes which makes them a creative design option.  They can be marbled, metallic,in a multitude of fun colors and even velvet-coated!

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(Above 3 images courtesy of No Water Flowers)

The wax finish is applied by hand to specially selected bulbs which have been grown to have enough energy stored so the flower will grow without conventional feeding provided by water and soil.  The possibility of use are endless and they are adaptable to design ideas that could never have been considered before.

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I found plain red ones recently at my local Produce Junction, 3 bulbs, each in its own container, for an incredible $5!   For a fun Valentine’s Day gift, I surrounded a trio of bulbs in Dove Dark chocolate nuggets.

imageYou could gift them this way at Easter too with seasonal candy.  To demonstrate their versatility, I set a trio in an open metal basket surrounded with river rock.

imageModern, funky, easy and beautiful!  For now only amaryllis bulbs are being sold in wax.

To learn more, please visit the grower’s page at:

http://www.facebook.com/waxz.naturals

Update(March 3, 2014):  In  exactly 3 weeks, the bulb bloomed, as promised, and is gorgeous!  Stems are a bit shorter and don’t require staking, another bonus.

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FYI:  I found Wegman’s Supermarkets was selling these bulbs in November 2014 in the floral department for about $18 each.  They sell out quickly so when you find them, stock up.

Update November 2015:

The No water-wax amaryllis bulbs are for sale at very different price points:
Terrain at Styers $35 each, available online and in store
Wegmans Supermarkets $17.99
Lowes $12.98, below left or $15.98 for premium bulbs, below right, sold under Waxt brand, not Waxz.  The premium bulb is larger and for a less common variety of amaryllis, the gorgeous ‘Candy Stripe’

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First blooms appear in 3 weeks

First blooms appear in 3 weeks

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I have been asked if these bulbs can be grown in subsequent years.  Gardening friends have taken the wax off them and planted them the way regular amaryllis bulbs are forced in subsequent seasons and have had success. You have nothing to lose in trying.  In the Northeast, I removed the wax and let the bulb go dormant as one would do with regular amaryllis then set it in soil in a sunny location with regular watering.  So far, foliage only, no flowers.  Both then, I often have this same problem with my other amaryllis!

Update 2016:

Trader Joe’s started selling the bulbs.  They told me they import them from Holland bare and have them dipped in wax in Virginia.  Again, they sold out quickly and none could be found after the first week in December.  Some online sites were offering wax amaryllis for sale: Terrain(no metal spiral on these but at a lower price $16.95), Jackson and Perkins at various price points and finishes, boxed for gifting and also sold in multiples, Gardeners.com($29.95).  Like in stores, the wax bulbs sell out quickly online as well.  My impression is that these bulbs may be high maintenance for sellers as they are dipped in wax in the US and need to be sold quickly as they are grown to bloom in 3-4 weeks. This would perhaps explain why only limited quantities are available.

Flowering Indoor Planter Tutorial

After a brutal week of severe winter weather, loss of power for 4 days, and widespread devastation to trees from an ice storm, I just had to get my hands dirty and find an indoor gardening project to restore my sanity.  I headed to my local produce store to see what was available.  There were loads of potted bulbs and small filler plants to choose from and I decided a basket of flowering plants would brighten up the house as we continue to recover from winter’s wrath.

MATERIALS:

newspaper, pruners

basket or planter

selection of plants of  different heights and textures,  including some trailing plants, in no more than 2-3 colors, mine in purple, white and greens

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pussy willow branches

Spanish moss

mini bird’s nest

ribbon

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I could not resist the intoxicating smell of potted hyacinths, harbingers of spring and the tallest plants in this arrangement. A cheerful primrose in white brought in another color.  Primroses hold a special place in my gardener’s heart as I first discovered them when my beloved mother-in-law, Louise, gave me some years ago.  A delicate fern, trailing varigated ivy and an unknown velvety plant with purple coloring completed my selections.

To start, and to be “green”, I lined the willow basket with the wrapping from the hyacinth.image

Starting with the largest plant and working to the smallest, I played around  with placement of the plants, left in their pots, until I was satisfied.

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The difference between a nice arrangement and a WOW arrangement is the layering in of accents.  They are like the jewels of the arrangment. In came velvety pussy willow branches for height and texture; a mini bird’s nest for whimsy;  lacy Spanish moss to fill in gaps and provide another organic texture; and a gorgeous French wire ribbon to highlight the purples.

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imageAhhhhhh!   Gardening is always therapeutic for me and I’m feeling like there’s a little bit of spring in the air so I can endure the rest of this terrible winter!  I hope to have inspired you to get your hands dirty with an indoor gardening project of your own!